I’m in love.
What’s that? Well, he’s about 6’3 and a shade under 300 lbs. He’s got a huge smile. Come to think of it, he’s got a huge everything, including a sense of self confidence that can barely fit in his XXL polo shirt.
No, no stop, you don’t need to call my parents, it’s not that kind of love. I’m in love with Rex Ryan, the new head coach of the New York Jets.
If you missed Ryan’s performance on Sunday afternoon, let me give you the quick Reader’s Digest breakdown. Armed with an explosive defense and an unflappable rookie quarterback, Ryan and the Jets beat the New England Patriots 16-9. Yes, those New England Patriots.
And yes, I know that it’s only Week 2. And that Tom Brady is coming off major knee surgery. But to understand the significance of the game, you need to go beyond the final margin of victory, and into the psyche of the New York Jets. Not just the guys on the field, but the people in the stands.
This is an organization whose fans are so war torn, so beat up and so left for dead, that even Lifetime is too afraid to make a movie about them. A place, where on any given Sunday, 70,000 people in the Meadowlands and thousands more watching on television are routinely waiting for something to go wrong. They almost never go to bed Sunday night disappointed.
They are the Jets of Doug Brien’s missed field goals. The team that saw a simple Herm Edwards statement, “You play to win the game,” become an internet cult phenomenon, and a term that gets thrown around about as much these days as “Would you like fries with that.”
Heck, this is a franchise that’s been so brain-numbingly, mind-bogglingly bad, that someone actually made a YouTube video called, “Jets Draft Blunders.” At last count, it had been viewed 788,795 times, with close to 2,000 people feeling the need to comment on it.
The best part of the video? Honestly, I don’t know. How can you pick a favorite part when all 98 seconds are filled with edge of your seat, uproarious, unintentional comedy.
Maybe it was when a fresh faced Mel Kiper Jr. said, “It’s obvious to me right now, that the Jets just don’t know what the draft is all about.”
Or the scene right from the 1983 draft, when the Jets took California-Davis quarterback Ken O’Brien over some kid named Dan Marino. In the shot, ESPN is interviewing a fan that is so confused, so befuddled, that from the look on his face, you’d think he just saw his grandmother naked.
After being asked about the selection, here’s his response:
“Everybody said if Marino was going to be around at that time, they’d take Marino. Obviously the Jets know something the people here don’t…”
The Jets know something the people here don’t.
Twenty-six years later that statement is just starting to hold water. Because what I want to know is how the Jets knew to pluck Ryan off Baltimore’s defensive staff last winter, when everyone else in the NFL whiffed on the guy.
On the January day when Ryan was introduced, he immediately endeared himself to Jets fans everywhere. His opening comment centered on the idea that he was shocked to see so much media coverage for his first press conference. He assumed the President must be in town.
Of course, he followed up that statement by coolly saying, “I guess we are going to meet him in a few years anyways.”
Wait, what? I thought I’d misheard. A Jets coach talking about winning championships? That’s like hearing Michael Vick babble on about the cute puppy living next door. It never happens.
But just a few months removed from the Eric Mangini era, that’s the comment that Jets fans needed to hear.
Mangini of course came from the Bill Belichick school of coaching, where press conferences carried about as much excitement as a night on the town with Tim Tebow.
Of course if Mangini’s offenses had been half as exciting as his Belichick’s, none of that would have mattered. He’d still be on the sideline in New York, instead of ostracizing his players in Cleveland.
He was Eric Mangini, of the 5-year plan. This was Rex Ryan, talking about bringing Vince Lombardi trophies to the Meadowlands. And he was an immediate hit.
Except it’s one thing to talk the talk. If Ryan couldn’t walk the walk, none of it would matter. Sunday the rookie head coach had his first big test. And he passed with flying colors.
It was the Jets; not the Patriots, but the Jets(!) with a relentlessly attacking defense. A defense that applied heat to Tom Brady the first play of the game, and didn’t stop until the final clock had all zeros.
It was the Jets, with the quarterback who never seemed rattled, choosing to check down and hit his running backs for short gains rather than try to force a ball deep down field.
Most importantly, these were the Jets, with the confident coach, unafraid to stand up to the big, bad New England Patriots.
Nothing was more telling of what life in Rex’s world would be like than in the final series, when the Patriots got the ball with 1:48 left in the game, trailing by a touchdown.
We’d seen Tom Brady and the Patriots do it before. Pick apart a defense. March down the field. Win the game, in the process crushing every heart in the tri-state area.
Any other coach in football would have thrown on a prevent defense, crossed his fingers and said a quick prayer. Rex Ryan? The only preventative measure he took was not to throw the kitchen sink at Brady to compliment the endless supply of pass rushers.
After a quick first down, Brady was unable to get anything going, throwing four straight incompletions. With each pass being fired, Brady was met head on by a Jets defender, moments from (to steal a term from Mike Tyson), knocking the quarterback “into Bolivian.”
When the final pass hit the ground, I texted one of my best friends and a Jets fan, a guy who’d experienced two lifetimes worth of heartbreak in under two and a half decades rooting for his football team.
My text after the fourth down stop was simple: “Not in Rex’s house.”
His response? Even better: “This is like a totally different franchise, I’m in heaven.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Rex Ryan. New York Jets coach. Heaven sent.